Some Notes On Medicinal Herbs, Folklore, And Dead Folk

I feel that, after talking about herbal medicine and how it helps our house run, it might be worthwhile to take a turn to some of my reading and talk about some of herbal medicine’s history (and why it is not necessarily for the faint of heart).

Well, actually, it might be for the faint of heart, because I’ve been researching a particular plant history, which means I’m going to talk about that one. This particular plant is, actually, used to treat arrhythmia and some other heart conditions in very small quantities. It is, otherwise, poisonous. But, you see, I did this research in reverse. I started out by working through various treatments and stories in some of those books I got from the library last week, and, as is my habit, made notes as I went, to follow up with my own reading afterward.

The basic story goes somewhat like this: long ago, the fairies lived all over the world, but they were invisible to humans, unless they desired to show themselves. Of course, being fairies, they also were full of all sorts of fun and mischief, the latter sometimes being very destructive. One thing many fairies loved to do was to steal children. One had to always watch the children very carefully, and it was necessary to sometimes disguise young boys, as the fairies were more likely to take them. People knew, too, which flowers the fairies did not like, and on the days when the fairies were said to be the most active, one had to gather the flowers and place them over the threshold and along the windows, to keep the fairies out. There were, of course, many other ways to keep the fairies from stealing your things, from trying to appease them by splashing a little milk on the ground for them to gather (so they would not steal milk and butter) or placing salt or sugar over the doorstep (to keep them from entering–or, in some areas, to keep them busy, as they would have to count all the grains before they could move on). Many aspects of life were set up to keep the fairies away, because more often then not, bad things would happen when the fairies got involved.

One of the worst things that could happen was, the fairies would steal a child or steal a beautiful woman. The younger the child was, or the more beautiful the woman, the more likely it was for a fairy to take them. But, you see, the fairies were tricky little beings; they would not just take a child, but one of the fairies would make itself look like the child, and take its place. At first, the parents would be none the wiser. But then, if a baby started crying too much, or being too fussy, or if it would refuse to eat, or if it would not sleep, they might begin to wonder if their child had been taken, and if a fairy had taken its place. Sometimes, too, if the parents could scare the fairy away, they would find their child or wife or whoever had been stolen, just by a fairy ring. Sometimes, especially for young children, the fairy would return the child to its home. At the very worst, the child would never be returned, but at least the family knew the fairy could do no more damage to them. But either way, the fairy had to be scared away or killed first.

There were quite a few ways to scare off or get rid of a fairy, but the one that is of the most pertinence to this story is the use of foxgloves. Fairies hate foxgloves, and if you feed a fairy foxgloves, it will die. So, if you thought a child might have been stolen, and a fairy had replaced it, you would give it foxgloves to eat, or in a tea, or something similar, to make sure that there was no fairy in your house.

About here was where I stopped reading and began doing some double checking, because the last I remembered, foxgloves happened to be poisonous. I did not happen to have any of my plant books with me, so I turned to the internet.

I was right. Foxglove is the folk name of digitalis, which has digoxin, which is–surprise, surprise–poisonous, especially to children.

Guess who is extremely sensitive to digitalis?

Small children. Like, the sort of small children who one might be testing to see if they are fairies.

And that, my dears, is why you never take what anyone says about herbs for granted, and always do your own research. Because sometimes, it’ll be a helpful tea that makes Cait better, but other times, it’ll kill a small child.

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6 Responses to Some Notes On Medicinal Herbs, Folklore, And Dead Folk

  1. IntenseGuy says:

    Interesting. So you think people may have accidentally killed their own children?

    • Absolutely–it was a common method, and part of the reason it was common was because it “worked”…which means many already sick children were probably dosed with various treatments.

  2. IntenseGuy says:

    Interesting. So you think people may have accidentally killed their own children?

    • Absolutely–it was a common method, and part of the reason it was common was because it “worked”…which means many already sick children were probably dosed with various treatments.

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